The First Day of School in Latvia

A Photo Essay

Photographs from the beginning of the new school year in Jelgava, Latvia provided by Andris Bērziņš, Honorary Consul for the Republic of Latvija to the State of Indiana and the newly appointed president of the Jelgava and Carmel, Indiana Sister Cities, Inc. And, not least, a friend. His mother’s family was from Jelgava.

Jelgava city flag.

Jelgava is a city of approximately sixty thousand residents located in Zemgale, the central region of Latvia

The first day of school is special and exciting everywhere especially if it’s a child’s very first first day of school. It’s known as “Knowledge Day.”

In Latvia, things are done a bit differently. The first day of school is a big deal for everyone. The president of Latvia, Egils Levits and Prime Minister Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš sent greetings and good wishes to pupils and teachers.

Education and Science Minister Ilga Šuplinska had this message for school children, “Let this exciting energy, the joy of meeting up and being together, inspire you throughout the school year! We all have one goal – we want to be ourselves: strong, smart, and sensitive – today, tomorrow, and into Latvia’s common future. So let’s cheer each other up on a daily basis when we meet in both the real world and the virtual world,” she said.

Welcoming kids on the first day of school in Jelgava.
Parents accompany their children to school on the first day. Looks like the days of everyone wearing uniforms to school are over.
Children wear their best clothes and bring flowers to their teachers.
Teachers waiting for pupils.
An armload of flowers for the teacher.

Bringing flowers to the teacher is not the only difference in how children behave in school in Latvia.

My first day of school was in the United States. When I came home from school my parents asked if children stood up, as a sign of respect when the teacher entered the classroom. When I said, “no,” my father said that I should stand up anyway. Even though I was shy and timid there was no way on earth I was going to stand up when no one else did. I was sure the teacher would either think I was being naughty or that I needed to go to the bathroom already. In either, case, I’d probably get a scolding. Of course, I never told my father and he never asked again.

When I was in high school and told my parents what classes I had to take their astonished response was, “Is that all?” “Study hall? Why do you need study hall? You can study at home.” I expected that reaction and wouldn’t have taken study hall but no other class fit into my schedule. That happened only once.

During my school years, I was pen pals with my cousin, who is one month younger. The diaspora took her family to Australia. At the beginning of the new school year, her letters included a list of classes she was taking. I was embarrassed to tell her how few my required classes were. So, if I had a class in social studies/history, I would make it sound like two different classes, social studies and history.

In Latvia, school requirements are so rigorous that graduating from high school is the equivalent of two years of college in the USA. I wonder if I would ever have made it through high school if I’d attended school in Latvia.

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